The Not So Powerful Female Cardinal
This article talks about the potential of female cardinals in the church, but has some misunderstandings.
First, it should be understood what a cardinal is. In the early church the locals would choose their bishop. There was some variety in how this was carried out from place to place, and it was sometimes but not always democratically decided. If the choice was thought a good one, other bishops would confirm the choice and then consecrate the man chosen as a bishop.
Females were not chosen in the early church to be bishops or priests, but often shared the title of their husband, who could be consecrated for these positions even while married. Deaconesses were chosen mainly to help with modesty in baptism, and their role was distinct from a deacon’s role. Deacons did a lot of the administrative and preaching work, while deaconesses aided only in female baptisms. Their necessity in baptism came from the fact that people were baptised in the nude. We could have deaconesses again today, but because baptisms now take placed clothed, there isn’t a need and the title would be one of honor rather than of function.
Back to the point, in early point of church history women often played a role in the election of bishops. As part of the laity, their consensus was also sought. This was a benefit of the varied systems that were used to select bishops. The downside was that powerful families started to control the process. In particular, the elections of Bishop of Rome (aka, the Pope) were interfered with by the Roman Emperors and other kings, especially after the emperor of Rome started residing in Constantinople. The Frankish king Lothair (around 850) even went so far as to proclaim that no papal election was valid without his kingdoms approval.
This interference lead to a decline in the virtue of the popes, as imperial pawns from the Frankish and Byzantine empires were placed upon the chair of Peter. Around 950 the powerful Marozia, as mistress of Pope Sergius III, managed to set up a dynasty whereby her son, grandson, great grand son, and two great great grandsons all became popes.
Obviously something needed to be changed to restore the papacy. In 1059 the papal bull In nomine Domini by Nicholas II did the change needed, and determined that only Bishops with the new office of cardinal (latin for “hinge”) can elect the pope. This helped insulate papal elections from the designs of emperors as it became harder (but not impossible, see the infamous Borgia popes in the 1400-1500’s as an example) to influence the process. Since all the bishops knew each other, it was much easier to keep election of popes away from imperial control.
However, this whole process was introduced to solve the technical problem of securing a papal election from outside influences. Therefore, there is no theological reason a cardinal must be a bishop and therefore there is no reason a cardinal couldn’t be a woman. Even intensely Catholic men like Fr. Groeschel and Cardinal Dolan agree on this.
Any pope could revise cannon law to allow females to vote for future popes, and I personally hope Pope Francis will do just that because it will bring us closer to the roots of the early church, which was something Vatican II helped remind us of the need for.
Now that we have established females could be cardinals, we can turn our attention to Linda Hogan, whom “the Daily Mail” suggests is a likely candidate.
There is not much on the internet about Linda Hogan, the article suggests she’s a feminist but the college she is at is one that is currently in good standing with the local Archbishop. There are many different feminisms, some good, some not so good. The feminism the church would have a problem with and would make her an unlikely choice for cardinal is the feminism that pits man against woman. A feminism that by definition makes man hostile to woman or vice versa is a feminism incompatible with the spirit of unity in the Church. The goal is to become one with God and neighbor, so a system of thought that considers man and woman as unreconcilable enemies is a system of thought unreconcilable with Catholic teaching. Additionally, post-structuralist feminism is similarly incompatible with the Church which recognizes the goodness of our bodies, made both male and female. Our bodies are an integral part of who we are, so a feminism which says gender is entirely socially constructed doesn’t fit with the goodness of our feminine and masculine differences. Conversely, feminism which demands women be treated fairly in the marketplace, or feminism which demands women be treated fairly in political discourse, are more than at home within a Catholic framework. Cardinal Dolan and Fr. Groeschel, as mentioned above, are both desirous of women having a larger role in the public sphere. Both of these men are solidly Catholic in their belief in fairness for each sex. Pope Francis himself wants a better theology of women to better incorporate men and women in the Church. If Professor Hogan holds a feminism within this framework, there is no reason her feminism wouldn’t make a fine fit for a cardinal.
The article goes astray in its understanding of cardinals in two ways. The first is in the following quote: “The conclave currently consists of 100 elderly males, criticised in recent years for their mismanagement of child abuse scandals.” The role of cardinals in conclaves is to select a pope, not to run the church. Perhaps some of these cardinals mismanaged their particular diocese in regard to the child abuse scandals, but as a group that’s not what their purpose is. To criticize the cardinals for mismanagement of the scandal is to show ignorance about how the church is run and who has what job.
The second way the article goes astray from a correct understanding of cardinals as at its close, when it states: “Were one of these women to be elected to the role by Pope Francis, they would become the most prominent and influential female in the Catholic Church, and could one day be elected to succeed the man who bestowed the honour upon them.” As a cardinal’s only role is to select popes, a hypothetical Cardinal Hogan would have far less influence than, say, Ms. Chaouqui:
Ms. Chaouqui is currently one of the eight advisors to reform the Curia, the administrative arm of the entire Catholic Church. Bureaucratic reform will speed the process of laicising abusive priests, give women a larger administrative role, and restructure the church from the ground up in a way that helps to express women’s voices. Imagine a group of eight re-writing how the executive branch of our government functions, and you can see how important Ms. Chaouqui’s role is.
In addition, the Pope is the bishop of Rome, not simply an elevated cardinal. To be a priest or bishop one has to be male. This issue relates to the sacramental office of Holy Orders, not the administrative office of cardinal. Any female cardinals wouldn’t be papabili because they wouldn’t meet the requirements to be a bishop.
After all this was written, I saw this article in which the Vatican’s spokesman Fr. Lombardi acknowledges the possibility of female cardinals but suggests the necessary changes to cannon law couldn’t realistically take place before the next consistory in February.